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Chrysler loses $690 million in first quarter on losses related to Fiat merger

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DETROIT - Chrysler Group saw big sales gains in the first quarter thanks to the new Jeep Cherokee and Ram pickup, but it lost money because of charges related to its merger with Italian automaker Fiat SpA.

Chrysler posted a loss of $690 million for the January-March period. Without one-time costs of $1.2 billion, the company's net income more than doubled to $486 million.

In January, Fiat paid $3.65 billion to a union-run health care trust to acquire Chrysler's remaining shares. The two companies are in the process of combining to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which will be based in London but maintain significant operations in both Turin, Italy, and Auburn Hills, Michigan. Chrysler Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer said Monday that the combined company expects to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in the fourth quarter of this year.

As part of the merger, Chrysler agreed to pay $700 million to upgrade its factories. The company took a $672 million charge in the first quarter to meet those commitments.

It also booked a $540 million non-cash loss for refinancing a 2009 note issued to the union-run trust, which pays for retirees' health care. Palmer said Chrysler expects to save $200 million per year before taxes thanks to lower interest rates.

Chrysler said profits were also hit by the weakening Canadian dollar, increased advertising spending and $100 million in recall costs. Under pressure from the government, Chrysler agreed last year to recall 1.56 million older-model Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs because of a risk of fires if they're hit from the rear. The company is installing trailer hitches on any vehicles that don't have them.

Chrysler's worldwide vehicle sales jumped 10 per cent to 621,000.

In the U.S., where Chrysler sells 75 per cent of its cars and trucks, sales rose 11 per cent, far outpacing the 1 per cent average gain for the industry.

Chrysler saw strong sales of the new Jeep Cherokee SUV, which went on sale at the end of last year. Ram pickup truck sales were also up 25 per cent in the U.S.

Dodge and Chrysler brand sales fell, but the company expects to reverse that with a new Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, which is arriving at dealerships now. Updated versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger also go on sale later this year.

Palmer said Chrysler remains on track to earn $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion this year outside of one-time items. It expects full-year revenue of $80 billion.

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